August 14, 2008

How TV News Played the Edwards Scandal

John Edwards Presidential Campaign Russia Olympics
Cable 80.6 10.8 2 0.2
Network TV 15.3 1.7 24.4 31.1

81%-Aug. 8 cable news coverage devoted to John Edwards’ affair.

On the afternoon of August 8, the news broke that former presidential candidate John Edwards had confessed to an affair in 2006 with campaign videographer Rielle Hunter. Rumors of the liaison first appeared in The National Enquirer in October 2007, but much of the mainstream media stayed away from the story. In the immediate scramble to play catch-up after the Edward admission, cable news led the way.

Cable is a news sector that tends to magnify major events. And the day the story broke, the Edward scandal consumed 81% of the prime-time cable coverage studied by the PEJ, eclipsing the presidential campaign (11% of the newshole that evening) and the conflict between Russia and Georgia (2%). The Olympic Games accounted for less than 1% of that day’s prime time coverage on cable.

The priorities were different on the network newscasts that evening. NBC and CBS led with coverage of the Edwards scandal. On ABC—the network to which he gave an exclusive interview—the affair was the second story. But PEJ’s News Coverage Index reveals that on Aug. 8, the scandal accounted for 15% of the network news coverage, getting less attention than the Olympics (31%) and the war in Georgia (24%). The presidential campaign lagged well behind at 2%.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ